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Virgin Atlantic secures IAG's 12 Heathrow remedy slots

Virgin Atlantic has secured all 12 of the remedy slots being released by International Airlines Group (IAG) at London Heathrow airport, though the airline's original business plan will have to be amended due to its failure to win flying rights to Moscow.

Regulators have forced British Airways parent IAG to relinquish the 12 daily slot pairs, citing competition fears about its market share at Heathrow following the takeover of BMI.

Announcing Virgin's success in the slot allocation process, chief executive Steve Ridgway says in a statement: "This is the beginning of an exciting new era in Virgin Atlantic history and we now feel a responsibility to everyone that has supported us in this challenge."

The airline's original submission to the European Commission proposed operating services to four destinations - the Scottish cities of Edinburgh and Aberdeen, as well as Moscow and Nice. It was competing for the slots with Irish flag carrier Aer Lingus.

A spokesman for Virgin says it will ringfence "most" of the 12 slots for Scottish flights, but he acknowledges that further talks are required before the airline can publish its full schedule.

"We've got the slots for Moscow, but we don't have the bilateral right to fly to Moscow," the spokesman tells Flightglobal. "We need to talk to the CAA and the Competition Commission about that, and work out exactly what's happening with those slots. I can't confirm exactly what we're flying yet."

Low-cost carrier EasyJet was last month awarded the right to take over BMI's Moscow route by the CAA, though it will be transferred from Heathrow to London Gatwick airport. British Airways, Aeroflot and Transaero are the only other carriers permitted to fly between Russia and the UK due to bilateral restrictions.

The CAA tells Flightglobal it is willing to hold discussions with Virgin over the coming fortnight, but it adds that the scarce capacity ruling in favour of EasyJet is unlikely to be overturned.

"The decision's already been taken, so unless they appeal that decision there's no discussion [about Moscow flights]," a CAA spokesperson insists. "Not unless the Russian and UK governments open up more slots. If Virgin want to come and talk to us about the Moscow route they can do, but the decision's been made."

In lieu of any change to the bilateral agreement, Competition RX, the body responsible for monitoring IAG's slot remedy process, will likely ask Virgin to switch its Moscow plans to either Cairo or Riyadh - two other cities earmarked for the slots. It could alternatively hand some of the 12 slots back to a competitor.

Aer Lingus issued a statement confirming that it has been notified of its failure to win the Heathrow remedy slots, though it stresses the process is "still ongoing".

The Irish flag carrier's statement reads: "Aer Lingus has been informed that it has been ranked second in its application for slots to be released by IAG to operate the London Heathrow-Edinburgh route. We are awaiting receipt of a copy of the European Commission's decision, setting out the basis of this ranking."

Virgin's entry to the domestic market also includes a thrice daily feeder service from Manchester airport to Heathrow, which is due to launch on 31 March 2013.

The airline, which lobbied against IAG's takeover of BMI, argues that its short-haul services will restore competition in the domestic market. It says talks are ongoing with an unnamed wet-lease partner to provide Airbus A320s for the Scottish services.

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